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The New York Times - issues in reporting on families

November 13, 2019
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by Catherine H. Myers, Executive Director

On October 3, 2019, in its UPSHOT feature, The New York Times published this article: “Stay-At-Home Parents Work Hard. Should They Be Paid?” by Claire Cain Miller. 

I wrote this online comment: 

Yes, parents who take time out of the paid workforce -- and those who would prefer to do so -- need choice, equality and justice from family policies. This is just what our grassroots nonprofit organization - Family and Home Network - has been working toward for decades. Our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies calls on policy-makers to support the wide range of choices parents make regarding their caregiving and income-earning responsibilities. Policymakers should aim for flexible, inclusive policies that do not discriminate based on parents' work/home choices. The American Family Act of 2019 is an inclusive family policy and it would cut poverty in families with children - thereby improving the well-being of parents and children. 


And on November 13, 2019, I sent this letter to The New York Times: 

11/11/19 – response to NYT - sent via online form to their Reader Center.

In "Stay-at-Home Parents Work Hard. Should They Be Paid?" by Claire Cain Miller, the policies Miller is reporting on are not about "paying" at-home parents - instead, they extend support to ALL families. They are inclusive. This is in contrast to so many policy proposals in recent decades, which were crafted to support 'working families.'

In the article’s 15th paragraph, Miller finally states the central idea of the legislation she’s reporting on: 

The general idea behind the proposals is that children need care — and families take a financial hit to provide it, whether they buy child care or stop working.

This issue of equality and inclusiveness in family policies gets buried in Miller’s reporting, as does the critical issue Kimberly J. Morgan points to: “investing in children broadly.” 

Miller’s coverage of poverty reduction proposals is confusing and fails to note the significant effect the American Family Act of 2019 would have in lifting families out of poverty. Reducing poverty improves child and parent well-being and has long-term economic benefits -- it deserves serious and thorough reporting.

In her attention to the issue of mothers and paid employment, Miller returns to an ideological argument that the majority of mothers reject through their behavior as well as in opinion polls. Miller sought commentary from Stephanie Coontz, who represents the “50/50 feminist” mindset: women and men must participate equally in both work force and family. Family and Home Network, along with our allies, assert a counter argument: that the life of an at-home parent is not inherently ‘less than’. 

We’re not the only ones who want to see reporting on mothers change. One company that helps women return to careers after taking time out of the paid workforce, Après, asked Karen Brewer, Chief Marketing Officer of a software company, what she thinks the media is missing:

 “I would like to see more stories of mothers who have taken an improvisational approach to their careers. Just because a woman has decided to take a few years or months off to focus on their children does not mean they have lost their expertise and ability to contribute in business. I would like to hear more about working mothers who have successfully moved in and out of the workforce as well as companies who make this a business and cultural norm. Mothers who are contracting or consulting part time should not feel like second-class citizens. What are companies doing to make them feel like they are part of the valued workforce?”

Leaving fathers out of discussions about families and caring for children is inexcusable. Fathers and mothers together make decisions about sharing and/or dividing income-earning and caregiving responsibilities, and the number of at-home fathers continues to rise. 

Miller misses out on the complexity of families' lives, on the increasing numbers of grandparents caring for children, and most importantly, on the issue that Morgan highlighted: ‘investing in children broadly.’ 

Our nation’s renowned developmental scientists are warning that we’re not meeting the essential needs of children. We've already lost many critical elements of The Evolved Nest- nurturing parental behaviors and community support for parents, conditions necessary for healthy human development. The wellbeing of our children is declining. These are issues that should be covered in reporting on family policy proposals.

In the New York Times’ handbook on Ethical Journalism, there are special instructions for sports, arts, technology, and a number of other subjects. But nothing about reporting on families. 

We call on you to give full consideration to your expectations of reporting and editing on family issues. Here are our recommendations:  

  • Recognize that theories of 50/50 feminism do not align with the diversity of women’s preferences or behavior and stop presenting those views as an indicator of any kind of ‘modern’ or ‘better’ way of living.  

  • Retire the misuse of the false dichotomy of ‘working’ or ‘at-home’ mothers and statistics rooted in this concept. 

  • Acknowledge the diversity of choices mothers and fathers make about the care of their children, and the reality that families often change their choices as their children grow. 

  • Investigate the spending on lobbying and public opinion campaigns of those with economic and ideological interests in keeping parents in the workforce. 

  • Examine the mountain of evidence from interdisciplinary work in developmental science and report on it. This includes the powerful effects of poverty reduction in improving the wellbeing of children and parents. 

The making and raising of human beings is as important as any topic you cover. 

Catherine H. Myers

Executive Director, Family and Home Network